| By A. Bebbington and A. Kopp | Published in Unasylva vol. 49(3): 11-18 |

Summary: The sustainability of rural development initiatives (including forestry) depends greatly on the capacities of the institutions involved, the relationships among them and their relative power. Therefore a strategy to foster pluralistic approaches to rural development should focus on building the capacities of those who have typically been marginalized by development strategies and discussions as well as on developing relationships that allow more effective, efficient and equal interactions and greater accountability among all participants.

This article develops this argument by first drawing lessons from research into the nature of interinstitutional relationships among non-governmental organizations (NGOs), governments and rural peoples’ organizations (RPOs). It then links some of those findings to recent discussions of the role of networks, associations and relationships of trust (or what has been termed “social capital”) in sustainable development, and suggests that these discussions provide useful frameworks for thinking about pluralistic strategies. The article then considers two experiences in building institutional capacities and relationships: one is a longer-standing case from Bolivia; the other a more recent initiative in Colombia. In the Bolivian example, the initiative has come from civil society, whereas in Colombia the initiative has come from government. The overall conclusion reached is that synergistic relationships can indeed be built. While some of the examples come from agriculture, their institutional lessons are equally applicable to the case of forestry.